A Fresh Linux For The Most Unexpected Platform – The Nintendo 64

Though it was famously started by Linus Torvalds as “a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won’t be big and professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones“, the Linux kernel and surrounding operating system ecosystems have been ported to numerous architectures beyond their x86 roots. It’s therefore not unusual to hear of new ports for unsupported platforms, but it is extremely unexpected to hear of one when the platform is a games console from the mid-1990s. But that’s what [Lauri Kasanen] has done, announcing a fresh Linux port for the Nintendo 64.

This isn’t a Linux from 1996 either. The port builds on an up-to-date kernel version 5.10 with his N64 branch and a tantalising possibility that it might be incorporated into the main Linux source for the MIPS-64 processor architecture. That’s right, the Nintendo 64 could be an officially supported Linux platform.

It would be stretching the story a long way to call this any kind of distro, for what he’s produced is a bootloader that loads the kernel and creates a terminal with busybox loaded. With this on your flashcart you won’t be replacing that Raspberry Pi any time soon, so why other than [Lauri]’s “because I can” would you be interested in it? He supplies the answer and it lies in the emulation scene, because having a Linux for the platform makes it so much easier to port other software to it. If this tickles your fancy you can see the source in his GitHub repository, and we’re certainly looking forward to what the community will do with it.

We are more used to seeing the N64 as a subject for case-modding, whether it be as a handheld or a an all-in-one console.

Via Phoronix, and thanks [David Beckershoff] for the tip.

Header image: Evan-Amos, Public domain.

Teardown: Creality Wi-Fi Box

Creality, makers of the Ender series of 3D printers, have released a product called Wi-Fi Box meant to cheaply add network control to your printer. Naturally I had to order one so we could take a peek, but this is certainly not a product review. If you’re looking to control your 3D printer over the network, get yourself a Raspberry Pi and install Gina Häußge’s phenomenal OctoPrint on it. Despite what Creality might want you to believe, their product is little more than a poor imitation of this incredible open source project.

Even if you manage to get it working with your printer, which judging by early indications is a pretty big if, it won’t give you anywhere near the same experience. At best it’ll save you a few dollars compared to going the DIY route, but at the cost of missing out on the vibrant community of plugin developers that have helped establish OctoPrint as the defacto remote 3D printing solution.

That being said, the hardware itself seems pretty interesting. For just $20 USD you get a palm-sized Linux computer with WiFi, Ethernet, a micro SD slot, and a pair of USB ports; all wrapped up in a fairly rugged enclosure. There’s no video output, but that will hardly scare off the veteran penguin wrangler. Tucked in a corner and sipping down only a few watts, one can imagine plenty of tasks this little gadget would be well suited to. Perhaps it could act as a small MQTT broker for all your smart home devices, or a low-power remote weather station. The possibilities are nearly limitless, assuming we can get into the thing anyway.

So what’s inside the Creality Wi-Fi Box, and how hard will it be to bend it to our will? Let’s take one apart and find out.

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How The Gates (Almost) Stole Christmas

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house
Blue screens were everywhere; no response from the mouse
Windows, it seems, had decided to die
Because it had updated; we didn’t know why
But Santa had a plan while we were all in bed
He reformatted our server and installed Linux instead
In the morning we rushed in and what did we see?
Programs were running, and most of them free!
There was Chrome and Open Office and emacs for me
Not a penny was going to Mr. Gates’ fee
Now we have no more blue screens, ever, of course
Because Santa turned us on to that sweet open source

BASH Template Promises Safer Scripts

Many bash scripts start out as something quick and dirty but then become so useful that they live for years, indeed sometimes seeing more use than our traditional programs. Now that you can even run bash well under Windows (although, you’ve always been able to run it there if you tried), there are even more opportunities for your five-minute bash script to proliferate. [Maciej] decided he was tired of always having to patch up his quick and dirty scripts to be more robust, so he created (and shared) his boilerplate template for scripts.

Probably most of us have at least some basic template we start with, even if it just our last script project. What’s nice about [Maciej’s] template is that he documents what’s going on with each part of it. It is also relatively short without a lot of excess stuff. Of course, you’ll probably customize it, but it is a great place to start.

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CentOS Is Dead, Long Live CentOS

On Tuesday, December 8th, Red Hat and CentOS announced the end of CentOS 8. To be specific, CentOS 8 will reach end of life at the end of 2021, 8 years ahead of schedule. To really understand what that means, and how we got here, it’s worth taking a trip down memory lane, and looking at how the history of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), CentOS, and IBM are intertwined.

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DevTerm Beats Cyberdeck Builders To The Punch

What makes a cyberdeck? Looking as though it came from an alternate reality version of the 1980s is a good start, but certainly isn’t required. If you’re really trying to adhere to the cyberpunk ethos, any good deck should be modular enough that it can be easily repaired and upgraded over time. In fact, if it’s not in a constant state of evolution and flux, you’ve probably done something wrong. If you can hit those goals and make it look retro-futuristic at the same time, even better.

Which is why the Clockwork DevTerm is such an interesting device. It ticks off nearly every box that the custom cyberdeck builds we’ve covered over the last couple years have, while at the same time being approachable enough for a more mainstream audience. You won’t need a 3D printer, soldering iron, or hot glue gun to build your own DevTerm. Of course if you do have those tools and the skills to put them to work, then this might be the ideal platform to build on.

With a full-sized QWERTY keyboard and widescreen display, the DevTerm looks a lot like early portable computers such as the TRS-80 Model 100. But unlike the machines it draws inspiration from, the display is a 6.8 inch 1280 x 480 IPS panel, and there’s no pokey Intel 8085 chip inside. The $220 USD base model is powered by the Raspberry Pi Compute Module 3, and if you need a little more punch, there are a few higher priced options that slot in a more powerful custom module. Like the Waveshare Pi CM laptop we recently looked at, there’s sadly no support for the newer CM4; but at least the DevTerm is modular enough that it doesn’t seem out of the question that Clockwork could release a new mainboard down the line. Or perhaps somebody in the community will even do it for them.

Speaking of which, the board in the DevTerm has been designed in two pieces so that “EXT Module” side can be swapped out with custom hardware without compromising the core functionality of the system. The stock board comes with extra USB ports, a micro USB UART port for debugging, a CSI camera connector, and an interface for an included thermal printer that slots into a bay on the rear of the computer. Clockwork says they hope the community really runs wild with their own EXT boards, especially since the schematics and relevant design files for the entire system are all going to be put on GitHub and released under the GPL v3.

They say that anything that sounds too good to be true probably is, and if we’re honest, we’re getting a little of that from the DevTerm. An (CPU BLOBs aside!) open hardware portable Linux computer with this kind of modularity is basically a hacker’s dream come true, and thus far the only way to get one was to build it yourself. It’s hard to believe that Clockwork will be able to put something like this out for less than the cost of a cheap laptop without cutting some serious corners somewhere, but we’d absolutely love to be proven wrong when it’s released next year.

Nerfnet Tunnels TCP/IP Over NRF24L01 Radios

There’s an excellent chance you’ve already worked with the nRF24L01. These little modules are an easy and cheap way to shuffle data across a 2.4 GHz radio link at a respectable rate, making them great for remote control projects. But after seeing that others had experimenting with using these radios to transmit digital audio, [Andrew Rossignol] got to wondering if some software trickery could push the envelope even further.

The result is nerfnet, a Linux program that allows you to tunnel TCP/IP over a pair of nRF24L01 modules. The link appears as a virtual interface, meaning everything happens transparently as far as other programs are concerned. Anything that uses TCP/IP to communicate on Linux can take advantage of this low-cost link, albeit at speeds that most of us haven’t had to deal with in decades.

Though it’s not quite as bad as you might think. Latency is around 50 ms, and after some tweaks, [Andrew] has been able to squeeze almost 300 Kbps out of the link. That’s more than enough for terminal work, and some light audio and video streaming isn’t out of the question.

In terms of range, he was able to maintain a fairly reliable connection at a distance of up to 60 meters (200 feet) outdoors. It might not sound like much, but again, you’ve got to take the cost of these radios into account. If you’re looking to SSH into a Raspberry Pi weather station you’ve got in the backyard, a pair of these could get the job done for just a couple of bucks.

The blog post [Andrew] has put together explains the software in fantastic detail if you’re interested in the nuts and bolts of it all. But if you just want to play around with the idea, you just need to connect some nRF24L01 modules to a pair of Raspberry Pis with short SPI wires to cut down any interference, and follow the instructions. Ideally the radios would have external antennas, but it’s not strictly required.

We’ve seen these modules pushed into service as impromptu Bluetooth Low Energy transmitters in the past, but nothing quite like this. While the latency and bandwidth offered by this technique might seem antiquated to modern eyes, it could be the perfect dedicated communication channel for your sensors, smart devices, or home automation projects.

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